With the recent surge in gasoline prices, the popularity of electric vehicles is soaring worldwide. Is Upstate New York a green region for EVs?
Yes, New York and New England are two of the best places to live in the United States when thinking about charging a battery-powered car.
Eric Hittinger, an associate professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology said, “Upstate New York has the cleanest electricity grid in the country.”
Hydropower and nuclear are the main sources of electricity in the state, said Hittinger, with a little bit of natural gas, wind and solar mixed in.
“About 90% of our electricity comes from zero carbon sources,” he added.
Upstaters can drive an EV and feel pretty good that the electricity is just about as clean as it can be, but what about the numerous batteries that need to be manufactured for EVs to run?
Battery production is a complex process, it takes raw materials from all around the world to manufacture them.
The lithium for the batteries is mined in Australia, Chile, China and many other countries. Cobalt helps keep the batteries from catching fire. The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces nearly 70% of the world’s mined cobalt, and about 80% of that cobalt gets shipped to China to make lithium-ion batteries. Thus, China controls the existing battery supply chain.
How can EVs be zero emissions when it takes so much fuel to mine the minerals and manufacture the batteries?
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois developed a model that calculates the lifetime emissions of vehicles.
Reuters analyzed Argonne’s data and found that the production of EVs generates more CO2 before the first wheel turns.
The total carbon footprint of gas cars, however, overtakes EVs after 15,000 miles of driving. So, after about a year, the EV makes up for those greenhouse gases that were released into the environment during its production. But, if your EV is charged with electricity from a coal-fired grid, it takes about five years to make up for the greenhouse gases that are being emitted during both production and charging.
Hittinger explained emissions like this: “Electric vehicles — mostly due to batteries — have a higher carbon footprint on day one. However, everything we buy and use has a carbon footprint.”
Food, toys, electronic devices, automobiles, there is some sort of carbon footprint to grow or manufacture all of those products.
EVs use a lot of energy during manufacturing, but, over time an electric vehicle has a much lower usage carbon footprint.
“If the emissions from using a vehicle are close to zero, like they are in Upstate New York, you greatly reduce your overall carbon footprint, even though the production of an EV is a little higher to start with.” Hittinger added.
Beyond lithium: Are alternative battery chemistries on the horizon?
Nissan Motor recently announced that it is working with National Aeronautics and Space Administration to create a solid-state battery that can fully charge in 15 minutes, instead of a few hours.
Hittinger said, “There are a lot of other battery chemistries that could be used, but the batteries would be heavy and have lower performance. In the long term there are some other chemistries, but that’s more like 20 years out.”
Should your next car be battery-powered?
Making the decision to buy an EV is a very personal one. Cost can be a prohibitive factor for some, and it can still be difficult to do a long-distance road trip in an EV.
“Except for Tesla, because it has a pretty good fast-charging network — there are Tesla chargers everywhere in the United States — and a Tesla owner can charge their car in about 30 minutes at a rest stop,” Hittinger said.
EVs are in such high demand right now, consumers are on months-long waiting lists.
Electrek.co reports that many Tesla models are sold out until 2023 in the U.S. even after Tesla price hikes.
“There is an artificial price inflation right now for EVs, because the demand is so high.” Hittinger said.
There is an alternative though.
Hybrids are in less demand than full EVs. They’re also cheaper and you can still save money on gas, depending on where you drive.